Uncategorized

Fear and Loathing in Ahmedabad

By Revati Laul

Revati Laul is an independent journalist and film maker, currently based out of Gujarat; where she is working on a book on the perpetrators of the 2002 riots. She is the creator of this blog. She tweets @revatilaul

P  A  R  T       O  N   E

If I told you that given a choice between the people and a convicted rapist, the courts have chosen to protect the rapist, you’d say I am making it up. I wish this time that the truth weren’t so bizarre. Because it also directly impacts my personal safety.  But I will come directly to the point.

On the 28th of February, 2002, a man called Suresh Richard was part of a bloodthirsty mob in the Naroda Patiya area of the city of Ahmedabad. He killed quite a few people that day, raped women and helped tear out the foetus of an unborn child from its pregnant mother and then raped and killed her. He was eventually convicted for these crimes in 2012 and put away in prison where he is now serving a 31 year jail sentence. But prisoners get two weeks or even a month out of jail in the year, to spend time with family, attend to urgent and pressing matters. Even convicts like Suresh are entitled to this parole time. Sort of the jail equivalent of summer holidays from school. But in his case, he has to apply for parole and the High Court of Gujarat has to review the case and decide whether it is safe enough to let him out. Once they decide that it is, they send a court order to the police station in the area, so that the police can keep an extra vigil, just in case.

The `just in case’ bit is important here, because Suresh is a man who wears his violence proudly, on his sleeve. He bragged about his crimes of 2002 to a journalist who he believed was a fellow mobster. And said to him, unaware that this was being recorded; “I raped Muslim women in 2002 till they were pulverized to pickle.”

The court may still think that even such a man has the right to visit his family and look after pressing matters once in a while. So in July 2015, they gave him parole. Suresh used that time to rape his wife. Or so his wife said to a court. He tied her hands behind her back, forced himself on her and stubbed out cigarette butts on her hand. She has filed for sexual abuse, violence and also for divorce.  Taking a serious view of the matter of how he conducted himself on parole, the court turned his request down the next time he applied. This was in October 2015. But then in January 2016, Suresh applied for parole again. This time he told the court, his daughter had gone missing, he needed two weeks to look for her.  It was granted. During that time, I, a journalist who is writing about Suresh and people like him; decided to try and meet him and see if he would agree to talk to me. He lurched forward,  hit me across the face till my eye began to bleed. Then pulled me and dragged me to the nearby wall, pinned me against it, removed an entire clump of hair from its follicle, kicked and beat me repeatedly. I didn’t think I would get out alive. But luckily, his son felt sorry for me and got together with two or three of the hundred bystanders and they peeled him off me. I ran. And filed my own case in court.  Suresh’s parole was abruptly cancelled and he was marched back to prison. The head of the Special Operations Group in the police, B C Solanki held a press conference in which he said that the people of Ahmedabad and of Gujarat should not feel unsafe. Suresh’s parole is cancelled and he will not be granted it again. The system works and this was a minor glitch.

And from then on, requests by Suresh for parole were cancelled. Until the 29th of November. Last night. I was out to dinner when Suresh’s ex wife told me that he was out on parole again. He had dialed her brother’s number and asked to meet.  That’s just fantastic. A man who  raped his wife gets out on parole and sends her into a panic, because he can.  How did the court grant him parole? I needed to know. But every court reporter and police person I called had no information on this. Not the Additional Commissioners of police who had once been in charge of my assault case. Nor the commissioner who had been in charge of that area. “No court order has been sent to the police station where Suresh lives, so we don’t know if he is out on parole.”

Finally, I got through to the police inspector in charge of the Sardarnagar police station, the area where Suresh lives. “Can you please just send a constable to his house and tell me if he is indeed out on parole?” I pleaded. I needed to make arrangements.  For myself and also to inform his ex wife. The last time he was out on parole, the day I was assaulted; I had to live like a fugitive. In an undisclosed location, until the police confirmed to me that his parole was cancelled. At least I always have the option of fleeing Ahmedabad if I need to. What about his ex wife? Who protects her the next time he is out?

“Look, if I need to pack my bags and run again, I need to know okay, so just send someone to his house, will you?” I said to the cop.

He was a good cop. He sent someone. And called me a few minutes later. “Yes ma’am. He is out on parole. My constable is there with him just now and he is in his house. He is out for fourteen days.”

And now comes the even  funnier part of my story. I continued. “When did he get out, how many of those fourteen days are gone and how many left?” I asked.

“That I don’t know ma’am because there is no paper work. The High court has not sent us its parole order. So we have no idea that he was out or who passed the order or when.”

So a man who first bragged about raping and killing women in 2002 gets out on parole. He uses that parole to rape his wife. Then he gets out on parole again and attacks a journalist. Then he is out again and this time the court doesn’t even send word to the cops. The cops only find out that Suresh is out on his bi-annual vacation, because the two women he victimized on previous holidays from jail told them so.

And with this, I come back to where I began. Who do our courts protect? That is the question. The people or the convict? You want answers? Go ask the judges. But first, you need to find out who the judge was. So far, there is no paperwork. Good luck, y’all. I am packing my bags. And so is his ex wife. No address of course.

……………

P  A  R  T       T  W  O

“Did you sleep last night?” said Suresh’s wife to me as we sat at the lawyer’s desk in Ahmedabad.

“No,” I said. “Did you?”

“No,” she said. But she needn’t have spoken. Her owl eyes said it all already.

“I had a nightmare,” she continued. “I was standing at a chai shop in the street where I live and suddenly, I see Suresh standing next to me with his face covered. I was wondering why he had covered his face when he pulled out a knife and stabbed me in the stomach.”

This is what fear is like for Suresh’s wife, living with the knowledge that the man who attacked and raped her while out on parole last year, is now out again. This time at the special discretion of the Inspector General of Prisons of Sabarmati jail in Ahmedabad, Mr Jebaliya. Suresh `Richard’ Jadeja is convicted for 31 years for heinous crimes committed during the 2002 Gujarat riots. He is in jail for raping and killing Muslim women and children in an anti-Muslim pogrom that took place that year. His wife knows what it was like to live with such a man and to stake her life on running away from him after he raped her whilst out from jail on his parole in 2015. When she reported this to the police and filed for rape, domestic violence and divorce, Suresh’s subsequent paroles were cancelled. No time out from jail for this man, a judge ruled. Until January 2016, when Suresh’s daughter went missing and the previous parole violation was ignored. Parole granted. This time I, the journalist writing a book about the perpetrators of 2002, went to meet him and was attacked for it. Parole violation no 2. And so the rest of Suresh’s parole was cancelled. Statements were made all over again about how the people of Ahmedabad must not worry for their safety. The dangerous parole violating criminal will not be out again.

But now, Suresh’s wife’s nightmare was a reality. He had been granted his annual leave, given to convicts routinely, once a year. It’s called a furlough. And it’s granted by the top person in charge of the prison. In this case, Mr Jebaliya.

Suresh’s wife and I wrote out our pleas  to the police stations where we live asking for his furlough to be cancelled. We got the police stations in our respective areas to sign this and our lawyer to preface it with a legal note. And we took this to the office of the Deputy General of Police who is also the head of the Sabarmati Central Jail, T S Bisht. When we walked into Mr Bisht’s office, he was watching TV.

“Yes, what is it?” he asked, turning towards us.

“Sir, do read this petition please.”

“What is it, tell me?” he shot back.

“It’s an appeal to have Suresh Richard’s furlough cancelled because the previous two times he was out from jail he attacked me and raped his wife. We fear for our lives since he is now out again.”

“Why have you come here, you should go to your local police stations and file an appeal,” he said.

“We did do that already Sir and that document is attached here to this petition, which is why I ask you to read it Sir,” I replied, a little irritated by his focus on procedure and complete lack of concern for our safety.

“I didn’t write the furlough, the I.G. Mr Jebaliya did. It’s not my job to look into this, go to him,” he replied, irritated that I was irritated.

We went to the next room, Mr Jebaliya’s office. His secretary said that `sahib’ is out of station in the district of Amreli in South Gujarat, 240 kilometres away; and will only be back tomorrow.

Of course Mr Bisht who sent us there know this. Back we went to his office.

“Sir, Mr Jebaliya is out of town…”

“So contact him when he returns,” was his curt reply.

“Sir, with each passing day, we are more fearful. It’s a question of our safety. Our lives are in danger. Please understand the urgency of this case. And the furlough is granted by this office, so it from here that it can be cancelled,” I pleaded,  it seemed, in vain.

“I cannot do anything. You have to go to the I.G.”

Mr Bisht was in charge directly of the Sabarmati Central jail and is entirely in charge when the I.G. is away. So why would he send us out with total lack of regard for our safety, I was thinking to myself.

And it made my blood boil.

“Sir, if this was your family’s safety at stake, you wouldn’t be saying wait till the I.G. returns…” I said to him, my anger clearly audible now.

“I can’t do anything,” he said, turning his face back to the TV.

Suresh’s wife and I stormed out of Mr Bisht’s office deeply frustrated and helpless. We asked for  a copy of the furlough. It’s an interesting document. It says  – the conditions for granting the furlough are:

The convict must abide by the law, must now meet with unlawful or criminal people or keep bad company, must live in the specified address…that being Chharanagar, that comes under the supervision of the Sardarnagar police station, must check in with the Sardarnagar police once a day, must not leave the confines of the city of Ahmedabad…etc.  Standard format.

I can totally picture a two time parole violator signing this and saying – Yes, I will do exactly as you say. The trouble is, the police station still has no written order so they have not started to ask Suresh to check in once a day. This, despite the fact that he is now out on the loose for an entire week.

The furlough was approved on the 24th of October by the I.G. for a period of two months. In that two month window, Suresh is granted a 14 day leave from jail, which he can avail of any time in that 2 month period. The start date of the 14 day leave is the day he pays a surety of 3000 rupees. That date was not mentioned on the copy of the furlough so we were still in the dark about his exact period of leave.

But even more worrying than that was the question in front of Suresh’s wife and me – who do we turn to next? I decided to call the I.G., never mind if he was out of town. This was important. I left a message on his phone and he called back.

“Sir, my name is Revati Laul, I was attacked by Suresh Richard in January this year when was out on parole and he also attacked and raped his wife on his previous parole…we are scared for our lives and have appealed to your office today to have his furlough cancelled. Can we meet you about this tomorrow, Sir?” I asked.

“I have to see…when I am back, what other appointments I have and then I can let you know in the next 2-3 days,” was the reply.

“Sir it’s a question of our safety. Our lives are in danger. Can we please meet you as soon as possible Sir?” I repeated.

“Why don’t you put all of this in writing?” he said.

“I already did that Sir,” I replied, realizing nothing was going to come of this.

“You’ve given it in writing na, so I will look into it.”

“Sir just one more thing,” I said.

“Why has your office not intimated the local police station of Suresh’s leave?”

“I will look into it,” was his reply.

“Sir, how is the police station supposed to calculate 14 days of leave if they don’t have anything in writing and how do I calculate how much more time he is out and about?” I asked, bewildered at the apathy on the other side of the phone.

“I will look into it.”

Was I actually hearing what I did or was this a movie I was watching about a robotic Nazi officer in charge of a prison camp in Auchwitz…where everything was run on procedure and clerical precision and there was no human factor at all.

No. This was not a film about a Jewish concentration camp. This was about a responsible police officer, head of the Sabarmati jail. Routine is paramount. If a convict is entitled to leave, he gets it. If someone complains that this routine leave puts their life at risk, let them make applications everywhere. It will be filed away. Stamp received and replied to. In writing. Someday.

Our next and only  recourse is the court. Wish us luck.

……………..